Love Your Enemies

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Our Ladies Bible study group continues to study through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. Six times in chapter five Jesus said, “You have heard . . . “ and followed it with “But I tell you . . ..” In matters of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and, in verses 38-48, revenge, and enemies. Maybe you should grab your Bible and read those verses. In vs. 38-42 He said “Do not resist an evil person” and gave specific examples of people who persecute and take advantage of you. He established the principle of “going the extra mile and turning the other cheek.” He said when someone makes demands of you – not only should you meet their demands, but you should exceed them. Peter took this to heart when he said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .” (1 Peter 3:9). In our “stand up for yourself” culture, that rubs the wrong way.

In verses 43-48 He said we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, that is so completely counter-cultural. But there is a purpose in all of this. Peter continued in his letter by saying “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15).

My family was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in the early-mid ’70s and my oldest brother was working at one of the base stores as a stocker. Jim carried his Bible with him to work and read it on his break. One of his co-workers constantly ridiculed him. Jim never said a word back, but was gracious to the guy and often helped him complete his work. One day the co-worker took his box cutter and slashed several pages of my brother’s Bible. Again, Jim never said a word but spent his break taping the pages back together. Finally, the offender asked, “Why?” And Jim was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. He asked my brother if he could have the very Bible that he had tried to destroy.

That’s why we don’t resist and we love those who hate us. Because our example could be the bridge to brings them to Christ. Beloved, who comes to mind when you think about people who do you wrong? That’s the very one you need to pray for and love into the Kingdom.

You Must be Righteous

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Continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is all about the Kingdom of Heaven and revealing Jesus as the rightful King. So far we’ve learned about who the Kingdom people are in the Beatitudes. We’ve learned about the influence Kingdom people should bring to the world in 5:13- 20. In Matthew 5:17-26, Jesus taught about Kingdom righteousness. I’ll jump ahead and give you the key to this passage: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were considered the most righteous people in Jerusalem. They built their righteousness on following every jot and tittle of the law – and most of those jots and tittles had been added to God’s Law by man. Their lives were consumed with following rules and rituals, even washing their hands was an elaborate process that was more about the show than about cleanliness.

Who does the Bible point to as “righteous?”  Matthew 1:19 says, Joseph [Mary’s husband-to-be] was a righteous man, but not because he adhered to the letter of the law. When Mary announced that she was pregnant, and he knew this baby was not his, by the Law he should have taken her out to be stoned to death. But “he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph chose to treat Mary with mercy. That is why the Scripture called him “a righteous man.”

Jesus later called the religious leaders hypocrites (and a brood of vipers!) because, though they did everything right, they did it all for the wrong reasons. He said “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matter of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23).  They obeyed the letter of the Law but neglected the heart of the Law, which is love.

So how could anyone be more righteous than the religious hierarchy? By understanding that God commanded obedience to the Law, but not for obedience’s sake. The Israelites were to obey the law because they loved God. And love changes everything.

The Power of One Light

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In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 2

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This is the second lesson in our study on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel, focusing on “The Beatitudes.” The first four “Blesseds” show the priority of the Kingdom of God versus the world as Jesus said the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. The second set of four “Blesseds” shows the characteristics that should mark the citizens of God’s Kingdom.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (v. 7). Merciful people have compassion for those in need, to the point that they actively and practically work to meet the need. God sets the standard for mercy as He showed needy sinners mercy through the cross of His Son. Those who show mercy, Jesus said, will be shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). The heart, being the seat of thinking and understanding, is where we talk to ourselves. The pure in heart will speak to themselves of pure things – Philippians 4:8 things. And Psalms 23:7 shows us that pure hearts will always lead to clean hands. These are the ones who will see God. That should make us pay careful attention to our thoughts.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9). Peacemakers are not doormats. Peacemakers work to restore broken relationships and bring peace to both parties. The most important of those broken relationships is between God and men. Until there is peace there, there will never be lasting peace among men. Peacemakers are called sons of God. Not every human being is a child of God, only those who prioritize the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 10-12). If you are living the righteous life of a Christian you will expose the wickedness of the world without saying a word. And the world will hate you for it. This is normal. Jesus said it is cause for rejoicing. If the world does not hate you, you better check your brand of Christianity. These are the ones for whom the Kingdom of God is a present reality.

What’s interesting is this is not just a random list, but shows the progression of the life of a true believer who goes from knowing they have nothing to offer God for their sins, to becoming a person who so emulates Christ that the world hates them for it. Blessed are you, Beloved, when you abandon yourself to the God who created you and loves you.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

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This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

Salty Christians

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I’m studying in Matthew 5, and Jesus is speaking about being salt in the world. He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13). That caught my attention. “How does salt lose its saltiness?” I wanted to know the practicality of Jesus’ statement so I went searching for a “scientific” answer, not just a “biblical” answer. I learned that

  1. Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad. But when it is refined for cooking iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it; these degrade over time, reducing the life and effectiveness of the salt.
  2. When Sodium chloride is exposed to moisture it breaks down and eventually evaporates.  In New Testament times salt was generally not pure and contained many compounds that held up to moisture. The sodium chloride would evaporate, but the other compounds remained, leaving behind a white powdery substance that looked like salt but had none of its flavor.

So what was Jesus saying? Salt is our witness in the world – and two things will render our witness ineffective: adding things to it that do not agree with the truth and taking away from the truth leaving a witness that has no saving power.

Jesus said this false “salt” is “thrown out and trampled on by men.” This perfectly describes the witness of the church today where political correctness is added and the truth is watered down to make it culturally appropriate. We no longer tell people they sinners and the blood of Christ can save them. Instead, we tell them that God wants them to live their best life now, to be comfortable in their sin, and to practice social justice. We have exactly what Jesus was describing: a worthless witness. Is it any wonder that the world holds the testimony of the church in contempt and tramples all over it?

Beloved, is your witness pure and true? Do you need to take away some additives and bring your conviction back to its natural state? The world has enough fake seasoning – they need the real thing. Be salty in this generation.

Be Perfect

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“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I’m trying. But I’ll never pull it off. I’ll never be perfect. I am too human, too flawed, too me. That was made sharply and painfully apparent to me this weekend. My heart is still. I’ll never reach that impossible measure. I might as well give up. Why would Jesus demand such a thing of me? He knows I can’t do it.

Because He is not telling me to be without fault, He is telling me to be complete. The word “perfect” in Greek is teleios, and it means to bring to an end, to finish, to be mature. (Honestly, I’m not even sure I can pull off mature.) Jesus used that word when He told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor and follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Paul used it to say that we must put childishness behind us and be mature (1 Cor 14:20). James said that perfection comes from patience (sigh) (Jas 1:4). And John said that God’s love is perfect – complete and full.

Here in Matthew 5, it comes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – after the Beatitudes and do not murder or commit adultery. It comes in the passage where Jesus said “Love your enemies” Oh.

He said “Do not resist an evil person . . . turn the other cheek . . . go the extra mile . . . give with no conditions. (vs. 38-42). He said, “Pray for those who persecute you, who despitefully use you.” (vs. 43-48). Be kind and gracious to those who stand against you. That, He said is what sons (and daughters) of the Father do. That is what perfect people do. That is what the Father has done for me and for you.

There are two times that Jesus used a word – teleo – that shares the same root meaning as teleios – both of these words come from the base meaning of “an end result or goal.” Twice Jesus said, “It is finished” – at the cross when work of salvation was completed (John 19:30) , and in Revelation 21:6 when the work of creation was completed. Finished. Done. Perfect.

I do want to perfect. Jesus said that comes in loving those who are against me, just as He did on the cross. I can’t do that on my own. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Neither do you Beloved.